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Forests are extraordinary places! They hold 60 per cent of all the world’s plant and animal species (flora and fauna), play a big role in regulating the climate and help reduce global warming by absorbing carbon. Livestock, the animals farmed for meat, dairy and leather, are the main reason why forests everywhere are being trashed and species are becoming extinct (loss of biodiversity).
The rate at which forests are being destroyed is breathtaking. During the 1980s, 15 million hectares of tropical forest were destroyed every year. In the 1990s, the destruction increased.
Slash and Burn:
And so it's gone on - 8.9 million hectares annually in the 10 years to 2000 and 7.3 million hectares annually between 2000 and 2005. Between 2003 and 2004, 700,000 hectares disappeared from Brazil alone – an area the size of Belgium.
The process of slash and burn – cutting down and burning unwanted trees shrubs and undergrowth - unlocks centuries of stored CO2 in only minutes and accounts for 20 per cent of human-caused (anthropogenic) CO2 emissions.
The overwhelming reason for deforestation is cattle ranching and the growing of fodder crops.
It demands on land are so great that animal agriculture is obviously unsustainable yet it not only continues to destroy the planet but is subsidised with public money for doing so. This is partly because the animal protein industry is the biggest and most powerful industry on earth and has enormous political clout.
It's estimated that just one hamburger made from Costa Rican beef costs the life of one large tree, 50 saplings, seedlings from 20 or 30 different species, hundreds of species of insects mosses, fungi and microorganisms.
No More Land:
The reason why livestock production is so grossly inefficient is because it takes 17kg of vegetable protein to produce 1kg of beef, 11kg to produce 1kg of pork, 6kg to produce 1kg of chicken. In a world that has essentially run out of agricultural land, this is crazy.
Looking at it another way round - 10 hectares of land can provide enough meat to feed only two people, maize to feed 10 people, wheat and other grains for 24 people and enough soya to feed 61 people.
The livestock industry is boasting that it intends to double its size. This can only happen by invading what few wildernesses remain, cutting down yet more trees and by using even more dangerous chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Already, 80 per cent of all the meat eaten comes from obscene, cruel and unhygienic factory farms and thuis figure will increase. Feeding animals - whether factory farmed or free range - now accounts for 70 per cent of all the world’s agricultural land.
The animals farmed in Europe increasingly depend upon soya, with some 18 million tonnes being imported every year from the Amazon. It finds its way into just about every piece of chicken, burger, cheese, sausage or bacon sold across the European Union (EU). Between 2004 and 2005, 1.2 million hectares were planted with soya in the Amazon and its increasing.
Turning to Desert:
At the moment, 70 per cent of cleared Amazon rainforest is used to graze cattle and most of the other 30 per cent is used to grow soya animal feed.
Sadly, deforestation is never ending as the soils of rainforest land are thin and shallow and after a few years of being saturated with agrochemicals they become unproductive and the process of clearing and burning is repeated. It is a problem that's happening across the world.
Deforestation is a policy not a mistake and the profits from livestock are the driving force behind it.
Plant and animal species are disappearing 100 to 1,000 times faster than should be expected according to fossil records. One-third of all amphibians, a fifth of mammals and one-eighth of all birds are now threatened with extinction, says The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA, 2005).
Valuable sources of sustainable timber, food, clothing and medicines are being trashed and the essential contributions that trees make to the recycling of nutrients, pollination, seed dispersal, climate control and purification of air and water are being wiped out without a second thought.